And so, Father Time made his play – and a very gracious Rhodesian Ridgeback named Tam – is now gone

Yep. Not much to do with wheels now, in this post, but that’s OK too.

My blog, after all, right?

We had a friend, a family member, and a good and gracious soul pass on only a few hours ago. February 9th, 2014, at about five in the afternoon. We helped her to leave this vale of tears. She fulfilled her side of the contract, and we fulfilled ours. Even though it pained us. Immensely. Still does, too. A sense of loss that’s not lessening with the hours.

This post is about my, and our, friend. Now gone. Never forgotten.

Hop back in time about 12 years ago, I’d been looking for several years for a particular Ridgeback, we found that one Ridgeback we were looking for. She happened to be a brindle, and she was in a local animal shelter, so off I went to take a look at her.

I found a young dog, that had obviously just whelped, and wasn’t taking any crap from anyone. An orange/black/agouti brindle, with a very distinct ridge. She would rush the gate when I got close, and when I managed to touch her with the toe of my boot through the enclosure, while she was sitting against it – she went from mildly irritated to “I’m taking your head off”. Then off to the other side of the enclosure, and sit there. Still growling. Facing away. Defiant. Mad at the world.

But I saw something in her, so we got her into the assessment area.

Once she was off lead, she immediately started pacing the perimeter fence, looking for a way out. We figured she’d just whelped and was actually looking for her pups. The shelter had no idea about them, since she’d been picked up as a stray and then taken in.

We called to her, and after a few minutes of coaxing, she came over, rolled on her back, and presented her belly to us. We had the chance to give her a good belly rub, and see how she did with direct contact. The girl did well.

Even with the aggression in the pen, I could still see something in her, and I was willing to take a chance. The wife…well, let’s just say she was a bit leery of this pissed off, growling, 85 pound dog. So I signed the papers, paid the geld, and within a few days, picked her up from the vet, where she was spayed.

I don’t remember what her animal shelter “name” was, any more. 12 years, you know? Not getting any younger, and my memory fades more than it used to. But I named her “Tamurand”. A bastardized name coming from kiSwahili and Afrikaans, with two elements in it: “Tamu” and “Rand”. Tamu means “sweet”, and Rand, well, that’s what the Boers called a ridge in the landscape.

So – Sweet Ridge came home. Tamurand, or Tam (or for that matter, Tammy/TeeTeeMarie/Tamela Sue Anderson/Miss T/Miss Ridgeback/Queen of the Ridgebacks) would become a family member. Along with a Yellow Lab that we adopted at the same time (and I’m sure I’ll write in the future about Kaya, but for now…it’s Tam’s time).

She became the dominant dog towards the Labrador, but never pushed her weight around. Even when the Lab was doing the goofy Lab stuff – pushing past to get a treat, shoving herself in the way to get more attention, Tam never disciplined her. She just went with the flow.

At first, we kenneled them in the house, in two crates. Just to get them used to the whole situation, the house schedule, noises, scents. We’ll never forget the one time that the poor Lab had an unfortunate episode that blasted the room. We could smell it before we got close, and when we went in the room, there was Tam, plastered against the farthest wall in the crate, looking as far away from the poop as possible. Absolutely did not want anything to do with it, and her body language told the whole story. We had to laugh about that one – how insulted she looked. But it all cleaned up, so no harm done. But boy, what a visual that was. Olfactory too, for that matter. Disgusting at the time, but still brings smiles to our faces, remembering Tam’s actions.

From there, in the months to come, they went into a dog run in the back yard, and then eventually I enclosed the entire backyard with a fence. They had about a fifth of an acre to run in, dig in, go after those gophers, and laze in the sun. Good times for them, and it truly became their home.

We’ve always had neighbors with dogs, and I’ll never forget the one time Tam was racing the neighbors pit bull on the other side of the fence, both of them yelling insults at each other. I heard a sudden yelp, and called to Tam to knock off her antics, and come down. She came trotting down, happily panting and satisfied. Came over to me, looked up at me – and she had a laceration on her left cheek that went from the edge of her mouth almost to her ear. That was a fun vet visit, about 14 sutures, but it repaired nicely. She always had a bit of a lopsided smile after that though, where the sutures contracted.

Yet another time she managed to make it out into the front yard, and down into the front lot, which has lots of native plants and cover in it. At least an acre of space, and since it was dark, she disappeared. We went running out after here, and the wife went down into the lot while we both called. Tam came running out of the darkness to my wife, whining, and buried her head in C’s lap, apparently terrified of being away. We decided that she really needed to be on a lead after that, and for several years, she was. Eventually, though, she didn’t need a lead and would stay with is, or in the front yard. Contentedly sniffing, or laying in the sun.

Time went on, many, many holes were dug going after those gophers (back yard looked like the Moon at one point), and many trips were taken. Out to Oregon, Northern California, the deserts, and all the way out to Arkansas and points between. I’ll never forget seeing that dog actually play, for the first time, once she got into tall grass on the son’s farm, in Arkansas. Up to that point, she just didn’t play. At least six years old at that point. Didn’t know how, had never been exposed to it, had never gotten comfortable with play. Never really realized balls are for catching!  She had a tough life, prior to us taking her in. I remember that she had a huge roll of skin on her neck, where a rope had been riding for months. Eventually that disappeared. Took years though, quite a few years.

Even with that socialization history she had, though – she was still a gentle dog. I remember that when hand feeding her, treats or such, she would take the treat with just her front incisors, gently. Never gulping or grabbing. She was an elegant lady. She’d often lay down, one foot crossed over the other in a classic pose, head resting gently on her paws. Incidentally, that was also her last living pose.

Elegant in life, and an elegant girl in death.

Sigh.

Back to being a Ridgeback – did you know they’re diggers? Well, now you do. One of the most entertaining things that those two dogs did was go after gopher burrows. I remember that the longest one I measured – the longest burrow that they attempted to dig out – was around 27 feet. Good girls! 27 feet of digging…yeah. Backyard like a lunar landscape, and they loved every minute of it.

Time went on, and everyone gets older. Tam came down with an abdominal issue, took her to the veterinarian, and he found out a large mass on her spleen. It was a chancy thing, but we decided we’d see if she could be saved. I guess she was around 11 years old or so, at that time. Getting old for a Ridgeback, but still….had the potential for several more years of digging, lazing in the sun, running after rabbits, and yodeling in welcome when her family came home at the end of the day.

So the surgery was scheduled, her chances were assessed at slim to marginal, and when they went in, the vet found a benign hemangioma involving the spleen….about the size of a softball. So out it came, along with the spleen. An overnight in the vet, and then back home, and she recovered in about two weeks. Then…back to normal. Extra howling and yodeling time was arranged, she lessened her “cockroaching” upside-down-all-legs-kicking-while-scritching-your-back activity, at night, in the house – but didn’t totally stop it.

The hot seasons, summer specifically, were getting a little tough for her. The hotter it was, the less she could tolerate it. Panting, and that ever ongoing search for the coolest soil to lay down on, or that perfect spot in the garage on the cool concrete would occupy some of her day. Even rigging water sprays to cool the air a bit really didn’t help much. An old body just doesn’t have that much temperature control.

By this time, we had a well established schedule. I’d hit the rack around 0100, after letting the dogs out for a final pee session. Then they came back inside, and hit their racks. About 0430 or so, I’d hear Tam’s claws clicking on the saltillo tiles, as she got up and went to get a drink. I’d get up, and let her and the other dogs out again, and if it was a hot time, then they got to stay in the cool air outside. If it was cold, then they came back in and hit their beds again. C would get up, and then they’d often be let out around 0630, and then when I’d get up I’d make sure they’re outside, mix up some food for everyone (only the finest Blue Buffalo Senior, and additional chicken breast plus veggies added), and they’d get their morning meal around 10 in the morning.

By this time, there was a new resident canine in the house – a Corgi named Millie. She’s a pill all by herself, and the inevitable arguing ensued as the pecking order was declared null and void, and diplomacy was engaged in. (you know that war is an aspect of diplomacy, right?) Well, the final outcome was no one really messed with Millie, Tam remained (more or less) Alpha dog, and Kaya, the ever patient Lab filled in the holes. (Kaya is laying at my feet as I type this, snoring like a motor boat. Old dogs, ya know?)

Time went on, Tam slowed down a bit. A bit less yodel to her welcome, and she occupied the Watching Place station on top of one of the boulders in the backyard less and less.

One day I came out of the house, looked out at the backyard, and saw Tam taking a full head gainer down the back slope. Then staggering to her feet, and immediately falling over again…and struggling back, then falling over. I thought she was undergoing a seizure, and it was still pretty bad as I tried to get her to relax. I started to try to find out what was going on, and it really didn’t look like a seizure when I thought it over. Google to the rescue, and I found out something called Canine Vestibular Syndrome. Neurological? Maybe. Absolutely destroys balance in older dogs, but luckily it usually is temporary, and is treated with antibiotics. So back off to the vet, who confirmed the diagnosis. She more or less recovered, except for a sideways list, after a couple of weeks. Within the year, the list disappeared, and she could more or less walk normally. Still a bit unsteady on her feet, and had to plant her feet farther apart as she walked and maneuvered, but she could get around pretty well.

Even with all these issues – hey, look! Cheese! Wow! Amazing stuff! Oh, and this stuff called Ham…oh yeah. Heaven. Life was pretty good for all the dogs, what can we say but they’re spoiled. Then again, they deserve it.

Then came a hot summer, and Tam’s respiration changed. It became more labored, and it was obvious she was in a bit of distress. So, back to the vet, where she became the patient of a specialist, a canine cardiologist. His diagnosis? Heart failure, basically congestive heart failure. With no treatment, she was given only a few months to live. With treatment, he told us she would probably be able to last 300 days or so, which would have put her end game right around October, 2013. So she went on multiple drugs – Furosemide. Enalapril. Pimobendan. She stabilized for quite a few months, then around October she had her Furosemide increased, since her heart was laboring a bit more. I remember the doc was pretty impressed with her condition, and how well she was doing. She was already outlasting his prediction, and doing fairly well.

 

It’s February 2014 now, and the old girl started to slow down even more about two weeks ago. She finally became acute, and started to slow down on her food intake, and also water intake. She started to sleep more and more, and had a harder time getting up, but she still kept to her schedule, and duties, just as she had in the years gone by. It was getting more and more difficult, and then one day she simply couldn’t get off her bed without help. By now, she really had to be coaxed to eat. Still drank water quite well though, and still tried to keep her schedule as much as possible. Weak, panting, and had to rest more and more.

Even with this, I remember late last month when I came back at the end of the day, and there she was at the back gate, tail wagging, glad to see me. I parked the truck, said hello to her, and opened the gate to let her out. She, of course, started to move over to the fields, so I called her back, and she followed me to the front of the house. She walked around, checking her garden out, finding interesting scents, while I watched her from the porch. After ten or fifteen minutes, she’d had enough, and started panting again. That night she didn’t do too well. Wasn’t interested in her night feeding, and laid on her bed, panting and uncomfortable. It became worse as the night went on, and then when the day came, it was even more severe. She did accept some light food – cooked chicken liver, a bit of cottage cheese, and some cooked chicken with heavily soaked kibble. Only about a quarter cup though.

I have a feeling that by this time, her body had started to shut down.

Well, I’m going to shut this down for now, time to hit the bed and dream about better days. I’ll finish this account soon, and add pictures and some video, but until then – give your family members a hug, and really cherish the time you have with them. It’ll pass all too soon.

Take care out there, folks. Live well, and free.

-Greg

 

 

 

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